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Essential French Phrases while Traveling

By Madeleine Munford

Contrary to popular thought in French tourism, they do not ALL speak English. The French also sport a bad rep of being infamously “rude.”

However, the French culture is almost obsessed with acknowledging each other and being extremely polite on a daily basis. It can be intimidating to interact, at first, because the French language has a rich history and it feels vulnerable to try a new way of communicating.

Trust me, you will experience the friendly spirit of the French instead of the rude side, if you make them feel seen and respected. Here are some essential French phrases you will need to use when visiting Paris – in restaurants and shops alike, to make your vacation experience even better.

  1. S’il vous plait

This is the French way of saying, “please.” I pretty much use this phrase at the end of every sentence I say when speaking to a Parisian until it just becomes muscle memory. You won’t get served well unless you say this at least once.

  1. Merci

Important for almost every interaction, as well. It’s important in every culture to say thank you, but especially for the French.

  1. Bonjour or Bonsoir

Always say “Bonjour!” during the day and “Bonsoir!” after 5pm, even if you see nobody in the place. They are there! The difference in the two isn’t a big deal, the French say, “bonjour, bonjour” at night sometimes, so don’t worry about that aspect.

  1. Merci, au revoir! Bonne Journée (or) Bonne Soirée!

When leaving after a meal or a shop – say this essential sentence and you’ll see, you’ll attract the attention of every worker in the place as they stop what they’re doing to bid you a nice, friendly goodbye. The “Bonne Journée” part is for the daytime and “Bonne Soirée” is during the evening.

  1. L’addition, S’il vous plait!

This is the bill, for when the Parisian waiters are minding their own business and it seems impossible to get their attention, which is very typical. They’re not being rude or lazy, they’re actually letting you rent out the space for the night, so try not to get anxious. Just raise your hand for their attention and they will come and help you.

Thanks so much for reading and remember, don’t be scared of trying! A little goes a long way when speaking with the local Parisians!